January 14, 2001
volume 12, no. 14
Ex-ad executive uses corporate tools to attract vocations

by Nancy Frazier O'Brien, Catholic News Service

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Natalie Smith talks about marketing, mismanagement and ``broadening the market.'' But she's just as likely to bring up vocations, the Holy Spirit and ``aggiornamento.''

    Smith, a Third Order Trappist from Coral Springs, Fla., says God is leading her to use the skills she honed as an ad executive for many years to bring more vocations into the Catholic Church.

    One tool she has developed to achieve that goal is the Vocations Placement Service -- on the Web at -- which aims to make the idea of religious vocations ``more commonly accepted'' among people who might never have considered becoming a priest, brother, nun or deacon.

    By answering a few simple questions about where they live, their age, the religious books they've read most recently, their education, and their talents and gifts, individuals can get information about the religious community or diocese that might be the best match for them.

    ``Even if a person sifted through countless religious vocations brochures, it would be unlikely that a candidate would ever have full knowledge of all that was available,'' Smith said.

    Her target audience is people 17 and up ``who never thought of a religious vocation before.''

    It's all part of what the corporate world calls ``broadening the market'' -- expanding the field of those who might be interested in a product (in this case, a religious vocation) rather than competing for the smaller circle of those already interested.

    But Smith also uses the Second Vatican Council's term of ``aggiornamento,'' or updating, to describe the Vocations Placement Service.

    Life in a religious community is often seen as ``too mysterious,'' she said. ``We need a little `aggiornamento' in how we do vocations.''

    Another service Smith provides to vocations directors in dioceses and religious orders is follow-up on why candidates drop out along the way to becoming a priest, nun, brother or deacon.

    ``These are things that make sense to business people,'' she said. Vocations directors ``need to find out why people are not coming back. ... If we can find the spots where people are dropping off, then we will not be losing people because of mismanagement.

    ``Many religious vocations are lost because people fall through the cracks, so to speak,'' Smith added. ``We hope to be the central point for everyone in the U.S., and eventually abroad, who is even remotely interested in a religious vocation.''

    Smith stresses that she operates under the ``constant supervision'' of vocations experts, including Father Irving Nugent, vocations director for the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., and Trappist Father Basil Pennington, abbot of Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Ga.

    ``We don't have all the answers,'' she said.

    Smith describes herself as a ``revert'' to the Catholic faith, into which she was baptized and where she received first Communion as a child. After first Communion, she had no religious contact until she ``took myself to church'' at age 17.

    That was a Protestant church, but ``four years ago, the Holy Spirit revealed to me the importance of the sacraments'' and she returned to Catholic worship, eventually becoming a Third Order Trappist, a lay associate of the contemplative order.

    Around the same time, ``at the height of my career'' in advertising, ``the Lord was calling me to leave it,'' Smith said.

    Since then she has dedicated her time and talents to the Vocations Placement Service and a related venture, Monk Retreats (, through which men and women can live for a few days in a Benedictine monastery to help discern whether they have a vocation.

    As of early January, she had sent 200 men and women on the live-in retreats. In the past eight months, she estimated that she fielded 400 to 500 phone calls from those interested in the placement service or the retreats.

    ``I never really planned to get involved in this kind of work,'' Smith said. ``But it's growing like a plant.''

For other news stories, see

January 14, 2001
volume 12, no. 14
Church News in the USA

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